Slovenia – 2014 Media Report

Slovenia is a former Yugoslav state of two million people that declared independence in 1991. Until recently, it was considered a model transition country with a functioning democracy and a prosperous economy. However, the global crisis severely damaged that image, bringing to the surface the weaknesses of an unfinished economic transition and a historically bi-polar society that was never properly addressed.

The economic crisis led to the deepest political crisis in the country's independent history. Four governments have changed since 2008 and two early elections were held with centre-right opposition, suggesting that fresh snap elections might occur again in 2015.

In 2014, citizens visited polls three times: for European parliament elections, local elections and early parliamentary elections.

A general feeling of disappointment with politicians has been evident on the part of citizens since the winter of 2012/2013, when civil society groups demonstrated in Maribor and Ljubljana. Protests led to the resignation of Maribor's mayor Franc Kangler. In 2013, the movement lost strength after the government of centre-right Prime Minister Janez Janša lost confidence of the nation’s parliament, opening the way for a new centre-left government.

During the early elections in July 2014, political newcomer, Law professor and Constitution expert Miro Cerar, received the largest support, managing to build a three-party coalition with a majority in parliament that could ensure a stable government. With his newly-founded centre-left Miro Cerar’s Party (SMC), the new Prime Minister promised to bring political stability to the country and to bring ethics into politics.

After five years of political and economic turbulence and a decline in living conditions, many domestic media succumbed to consumption-orientated commercialisation to survive. The crisis also forced some papers or broadcasters to fire journalists, while the owner of the main free daily in Slovenia shuttered the project.

Slovenian society, after unanimously backing independence from Socialist Yugoslavia in 1991, remains deeply divided. There is a majority of left-orientated parties, citizens and civil groups that see in the WWII Partisan Communist-led movement a pillar of today's independent Slovenia on one side; on the other, a “conservative” sector minimizes the roll of partisans and demands that crimes committed by Communists after WWII and during their 40-year-long rule are investigated and condemned.

Those divisions have also had an impact on journalists and their organizations

Two journalist’s associations cohabit in Slovenia. The Slovenian Journalists' Association, Društvo novinarjev Slovenije (DNS), is rooted in the first association founded by Slovenian journalists in 1905. The Association of Journalists and Commentators, Združenje novinarjev in publicistov (ZNP) was founded in 2007 to “bring together journalists and communities regardless of their political beliefs”. The founders of the ZNP are Peter Jančič, Slavko Vizovišek, Brane Senegačnik, Silvester Šurla, Matej Makarovič, Zlata Krašovec, Igor Kršinar, Jure Sešek, Tino Mamić, Vanessa Čokl, Vlado Vodušek, Aleš Kocjan and Borut Meško.

There are over 1300 media outlets registered in Slovenia. Out of this number, nearly 1000 produce printed media. In 2012, Slovenia had close to 1.5 million internet users (broadband users more than 500 000). Slovenian dailies include Delo, Večer , Primorske novice, Slovenske novice (a tabloid), Dnevnik, Ekipa (a sport daily) and Finance (business). The last issue of the free daily Žurnal24 was published on 15 May 2014. The public broadcaster is RTV Slovenija.

The gross value of advertising in Slovenia dropped 3% to 649.3 million EUR in 2012. All segments bar cinema advertising contracted in the midst of the second recession in four years, according to market research firm Mediana, as STA news agency reported. Mobile advertising suffered the greatest decline, contracting by 41% to EUR 461,000, but that represents only a tiny sliver of overall revenue. Internet advertising, which accounts for 4% of total revenue, dropped 16% to EUR 26.2m, after having registered the fastest pace of growth among all segments in the previous year.

In its 2014 Freedom of the Press report on Slovenia, the US-based Freedom House improved Slovenia's Press Freedom ranking from 40 in 2013 to 39. Despite positive factors, like the country's constitutional and legal guarantees that protect freedom of expression and a formal ban on hate speech and incitement to intolerance or violence, the NGO warned that defamation remains a criminal offence that can result in imprisonment, and journalists can be legally compelled to reveal their sources.

Both DNS and ZNP urged the newly-appointed government to change the country's Criminal Code that currently includes prison sentences for journalists accused of publishing classified information or defamation. The existence of such provisions represents a strong threat to investigative journalism and, at the same time, can and already has contributed to the widespread self-censorship of journalists in a shrinking media labour market.

The International Press Institute (IPI) and the South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), , also urged the Slovenian authorities to address the issue during a visit to Slovenia in November 2014, underlining that Slovenia had fallen behind its neighbours, including fellow former Yugoslav states Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)/Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

“We were very encouraged to hear from parliamentarians and officials alike in Slovenia that they are open to considering making defamation a matter for civil law only,” said IPI Executive Board Member George Brock, who led the delegation. “This change would be better for the protection of free expression and follow the trend across the rest of Europe.”

The need for such changes became even more evident as preliminary hearings ahead of a trial against investigative reporter Anuška Delič started. An OCCRP partner and journalist for the Slovenian newspaper Delo, the Slovenian Prosecutors’ office has indicted her for allegedly publishing classified secrets.

Delič is accused of publishing classified state information that connected a Slovenian opposition party with an extreme right-wing group, and could be sentenced to up to three years of prison.

The journalist was charged in April 2013, but only learned the details of her indictment in September 2014, which state that she must stand trial for disseminating classified information.

SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said, “Both Slovenia and the EU are sending the wrong message to other countries with a case like this. Legal actions taken against Anuška Delič are reprehensible, and I call Slovenian authorities to drop these charges immediately. EU member countries must do their best to set positive examples, instead of interfering with the work of reporters.”

Another investigation was launched on the same grounds against Dejan Kaloh, journalist and editor on the website politikis.si and author of the book Od partije do Patrie (From the Party to the Patria). Kaloh was accused of publishing classified information related to an ongoing probe against the leader of the main centre-right opposition party, Janez Janša. Kaloh's house was searched by police in January 2014.

In both cases DNS and ZNP called upon the authorities to drop the charges. Their call was backed also by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media.

In April 2014, in the case of Mladina D.D. Ljubljana v. Slovenia, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of weekly Mladina's appeal, concluding that the Slovenian judiciary had failed to strike a balance between freedom of speech and protection of the reputation of a politician. The ruling was seen by the weekly as landmark precedent and a “lesson for the Slovenian judiciary, in particular the Constitutional Court, when it comes to assessing freedom of journalistic expression”.

Weekly Mladina published an article in 2005 in which one of its reporters described Srečko Prijatelj, MP for the far-right National Party (SNS), as "cerebrally bankrupt" after a debate on a bill on same-sex partnerships during which Prijatelj had expressed homophobic positions. Prijatelj sued Mladina and domestic courts all the way to the Constitutional Court. The Court ruled in his favour on grounds that the characterisation of Prijatelj exceeded the boundaries of permissible criticism. The DNS welcomed the court's ruling, saying it could encourage journalists to take on a more critical attitude in their articles. On the other hand, the ZNP warned that, although any offensive statement based on a person’s sexual orientation was unacceptable, it was also unacceptable to write offensive material as a response to those who had made such statements.

Leo Oblak finally concluded the story of the failed project Info TV in March 2014 and solved the problems with Triglav Naložbe.

In April 2014, Nataša Pirc Musar was appointed by the programme board as the new director general of the public broadcaster RTV Slovenia. Pirc Musar, a former TV journalist, news presenter and human rights lawyer, has held the post of the Slovenian Information Commissioner since 2004. However, the process has been cancelled. Former director of RTV Mark Fillija was appointed first as Interim Director, and then as Director in September 2014.

In May 2014, Austrian Styria Media Group announced it was closing free-sheet daily Žurnal24, weekly Žurnal and news website Zurnal24.si, citing losses exceeding 40 million Euros since its foundation in 2003. The weekly was on the market since November 2003, and the daily since September 2007. The disappearance of the main free-sheet journal in Slovenia was attributed by Styria to “weaknesses in the advertising market” amid a general crisis in the country. The closure of Žurnal left 53 people, mostly journalists, without employment. A group of former employees founded Feniks media d.o.o. to continue with the production of the news website Zurnal24.si.

The Austrian group kept its minority stake in newspaper publisher Dnevnik, online shopping website bolha.com and job search site MojeDelo.com.

Slovenian media reported in October that private broadcaster POP TV, a member media group Pro Plus d.o.o. owned by Dutch CME Media Enterprises B.V, carried out additional lay-offs after having fired 50 employees in May 2013, and another 25 at the beginning of 2014.

The broadcaster did not deny the lay-offs nor give details, but only said an “optimization of expenses” was required due to significant investments.

Another commercial broadcaster called Planet TV, founded in 2012 by Greek Antenna Group (51 per cent) and state-owned telecommunication operator Telekom (49 per cent), also fired five journalists in 2014. The broadcaster said they had agreed to conclude the collaboration with them as part of a renewal of their main news program Danes.

The ZNP warned that the move was part of centre-left Alenka Bratušek’s government-led efforts to restrict media freedom by dismissing journalists that were not “pro-governmental”.

Another four administrative or technical employees at coastal daily Primorske Novice were fired in July as part of the paper's “restructuring in accordance with the financial situation”. The newspaper's officials said no measures were planned for 2015 that would affect the editorial team.

In 2014 publishing company Delo agreed to sell its 79 per cent stake in Maribor's daily Večer to private company Dober Večer. The price agreed was one million Euros, three times less than initially expected. The sale had been requested by the competition authorities in 2009, claiming that with the acquisition, carried out in 2008, Delo breached competition legislation.

The takeover was finalized in October, and did not produce any lay-offs in the weeks that followed. However, the lack of transparency concerning the funding of the acquisition and the absence of any public commitment concerning the future functioning of the daily left many uncertainties for the employees, and can hardly contribute to better and more critical journalistic work.

The number of journalists with full-time contracts has significantly decreased in recent years, according to the participants at a conference on employment of journalists, organized by the DNS and the Trade Union of Journalists in April 2014, Slovenian news agency STA reported. They stressed that while public broadcaster RTV Slovenija hired 85 journalists over the last three years, the rest of the country's media employed only 25.

The head of RTV Slovenija said that the number of employees had gone down over the past few years, but since the amount of work had increased, the number of journalists with different contractual arrangements had also increased. Out of some 500 journalists with part-time working deals, about 200 meet the conditions for full-time employment.

Filli said that in 2010, RTV Slovenija had committed to hire a certain number of journalists every year. They planned to employ up to 50 journalists in 2014, Filli said underlining that, being a public broadcaster with stable financing, planning was easier for them.

Daily Delo CEO Irma Gubanec stressed that the newspaper was facing a fall in its circulation and advertising revenues, and could not fulfil such a commitment. In 2013, some 750 journalists with a part-time contract worked for Delo, with most of them working only occasionally.

The head the Ministry of Culture's Media Directorate, Ženja Leiler, claimed that the ministry was drafting legislation changes that would improve free-lance journalists' situation. According to her, they would get additional rights, such as sick leave.

Slovenian citizens visited polls four times in 2014: the European Parliament elections, parliamentary elections, local elections and a referendum on archives. That meant that during four out of the 12 months of the year, political parties and media were engaged in pre-electoral or pre-referendum campaigns.

Due to their limited financial resources, politicians and parties had to pay particular attention to media rather than expensive campaigning. This created pressure on broadcasters, editors, reporters and reporting. An additional challenge for journalistic integrity was the already unstable situation in the labour market amid speculations or fears of lay-offs.

The above circumstances cannot justify those cases in which reporters used maliciously “leaked” information to discredit political opponents or newly-appointed officials. In some cases, the leaked information proved to be true, but in others, it was forgotten as soon as the political objective was achieved.

In April 2014, former Prime Minister Janez Janša lost a lawsuit against Finnish journalist Magnus Berglund and the broadcaster YLE. The Ljubljana District Court ruled in favour of Berglund and ordered Janša to cover the trial expenses. In August, the case was finally closed, since Janša did not appeal the ruling.

Janša championed Slovenia's drive to secede from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991 and has headed two Slovenian governments from 2004-2008 and 2012-2013. In June 2013, Janša was sentenced to two years in prison over corruption in the Patria case. It was Slovenia's biggest defence deal ever, signed by his government to purchase 135 armoured vehicles from the Finnish defence group. Janša started serving his two-year sentence in June 2014, although he managed to get elected to parliament and was allowed to regularly attend parliamentary sessions from prison.

In an interview from prison, Janša accused the ruling centre-left Alenka Bratušek government of “controlling media, judiciary and banks” and using them against him and his Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). He claimed that the bribery allegations related to the Patria deal, signed in 2006, were part of a witch hunt against him. His party strongly criticized national media, in particular the public broadcaster Radio Televizija Slovenije, accusing them of “censorship” and intentional marginalization of their political activities.

In December, Slovenia's Constitutional Court ordered Janša's release from prison pending a ruling on his appeal that was to be dealt with urgently. Janša's lawyers claimed he was not given a fair trial, but he lost an earlier appeal in October.

By the end of 2014, a scandal involving the headmaster and a professor at a high school in Maribor, northern Slovenia, made headlines for days after a video showing them sexually interacting in the school went viral on social networks. The footage or frozen images from it were published by almost all media, while many also published the identity of the two involved. Some weeks after the scandal emerged, one of the two involved committed suicide.

The DNS condemned the coverage of the scandal, warning “a significant part of Slovenian media breached some of the fundamental professional and ethical standards while also violating the right to privacy of two persons that before that were unknown to the public.”

"The responsibility of editors to evaluate which information is of public interest completely failed, showing the tragic consequences that sensationalist press can cause,” the DNS said in a statement.

Some weeks later, the DNS and editors or representatives of Slovenian Public Television (RTV Slovenija), commercial televisions POP TV and Kamal A, news website 24ur.com, dailies Delo, Dnevnik and Večer, Slovenian news agency STA and student's radio Radio Študent signed a Public Commitment for Better Media. The signatories committed to respect the journalists’ ethics code, to continuously educate editors and journalists and to a regular supervision of media practices with the objective of improving media content.

The signatories invited all media in the country to adhere to the declaration.